SALT LAKE CITY — Shoppers are ready to spend this year and The Utah Division of Consumer Protection has a list of shopping tips to keep consumers safe and informed when making holiday purchases.
This year, holiday shoppers will buy on mobile devices and via home computers through text, email and website offers that target consumers via social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As shoppers rely on their mobile devices away from home, make sure you aren’t exposing personal information through unsecured public Wi-Fi connections.
“Remember free Wi-Fi doesn’t always mean a secure Wi-Fi connection,” Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Department of Commerce, said. “Be careful where and how you connect in cyberspace.”
Last year, Black Friday saw 87 million shoppers in stores and online, making it the largest shopping day of the year. The following Cyber Monday tracked 127 million shoppers clicking sales online.
The National Retail Federation estimates 2015 holiday retail sales to hit around $630.5 billion, a 3.7 percent increase over 2014. In cyberspace, Shop.org projects 2015 online holiday sales to total around $105 billion, an increase of between 6 and 8 percent from last year, with free shipping offers luring more consumers online.
Division of Consumer Protection Director Daniel O’Bannon warns that shoppers searching for the perfect gift may also become targets for the perfect fraudster trap.
“Be aware that popular gifts attract both bargain hunters and con artists,” O’Bannon said. “If you’re looking for this year’s hottest gift, be watchful for fake websites vying for your business and classified ads that may pull a bait and switch with a counterfeit item.”
Tips for shopping smart and safe this holiday season
- Beware of rogue public Wi-Fi spots. Fraudsters will set up shop at popular public Wi-Fi locations and promote “free” Wi-Fi connections to entice consumers to connect their devices. Before you connect to any Wi-Fi, make sure the connection is password protected and don’t enter personal or credit card information.
- Secure your smartphone and tablet devices. Mobile devices are a convenient resource but may also provide fraudsters with access to your personal and account information. Only install apps or programs from known sources, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your battery runs down quickly and don’t leave your phone unattended. Also, make sure you log off retailers’ websites so your information isn’t vulnerable to cyber thieves.
- Keep your anti-virus software up to date on your mobile devices and home computer. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect your mobile devices and computers against hacker attacks.
- Don’t send cash or wire money for payment. Do not wire money via Western Union, Money Gram, Green Dot card or any other wire service for online purchases; you may be handing over your money to scammers and never get the item you thought you were purchasing. Pay by credit card to protect your purchases.
- Compare prices, look out for phantom websites. Anyone can create a store online. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions. If you’re buying an item from websites such as eBay or Etsy, be sure to use a trusted payment service, such as PayPal or your credit card, to protect your funds if you need to file a dispute with the seller.
- Avoid counterfeit products. Carefully examine the products you want to buy for signs of missing information (manufacturing information, warranty, product codes, etc.), broken or missing safety seals, different or incomplete packaging and subtle or obvious changes to a company logo.
- Keep online shopping safe. Make sure your apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for various “permissions.” Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense. For example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list? Another way to check on the safety of apps is to read through the feedback in the comments section of the market and choose apps with a high rating.
- Enter financial information only on secure sites. Do not email financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you initiate a purchase online, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browsers status bar or a URL address that includes an “s” after “http.”
- Keep a paper trail in a file folder. Print and save records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt and emails, in case you need to return a gift after the holidays.
- Before you purchase, review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund before you complete the transaction. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item and if the company charges a “restocking” fee to the consumer.
- Consider coupons. Some companies offer discounts via email and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”
- Read retailer and product reviews. Reviews from other people, experts and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs, but don’t put all of your trust in one review. A brand’s reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.
For more information on how to protect yourself from scams or to file a complaint, log on to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection website.